Augmented Reality and the Digital Map Revolution

Most of us are familiar with digital maps on our phones or computers. We think nothing of using these devices when finding directions to an unfamiliar place but what about when want to dig deeper? Thanks to some groundbreaking technology called augmented reality, our digital maps could be undergoing a revolution, changing how we find and discover the world around us.

Augmented Reality and Maps

Augmented reality, or AR, acts like a 3D X-ray vision of the world as we navigate around. One of the pioneers of this technology is Nokia and their HERE Maps, which was introduced onto its Windows Phone last year. HERE Maps is not only a digital map but one that morphs into a dynamic, contextual assistant, providing information as a person holds their phone up at arm’s length to view their surroundings.

Nokia City Lens provides an augmented reality overlay view of buildings.

Nokia City Lens provides an augmented reality overlay view of buildings.

How Augmented Reality Assists the Traveler

For example, if a person comes across an unfamiliar building, he or she simply pulls out their phone and holds it up to the building. The phone displays the building in 3D as well as any relevant information about it, such as ratings or special offers for a restaurant. Augmented reality could be extremely useful, especially for tourists and business travelers. AR could not only save people a lot of walking but could quickly show the points of interest in an unknown place.

Nokia’s HERE Maps makes this possible by building in a transition from the traditional overhead view of a map and the augmented reality view where the phone is used like a lens to view the immediate environment. The technology allows the user to keep track of how what they see around them fits in with the digital map. With AR, people can explore things within two to three hundred meters.

3D Technology Connects the Virtual World with the Real World

In other words, this 3D technology provides the spatial connections between the virtual world on the phone and the actual world. HERE Maps has different features to make that possible. First of all, the application displays the dynamic distance to a point as a person walks towards it. Another feature, Point Me There, puts arrows on the screen to point people in the right direction, and those directions are accurate up to about 20 to 30 feet.

Limitations of Augmented Reality with Maps

The technology has some limitations, however. It is difficult to get the right information if a person is outside a large building and wants to know what is inside or if they are inside and want to know what is outside. The team at Nokia still has not figured out how to display items that are not directly visible in a person’s line of sight. There is also the problem of trying to figure out what is on the different levels, say the second or third floor, of a building.

Ultimately, LiveSight and augmented reality has the potential for revolutionizing the way we discover the world around us for several reasons. Not only are smartphones commonplace, they are now being equipped with bigger screens, faster processors, more precise location tools, and reliable voice recognition. Plus, there is a growing desire for effortless, one-handed navigation and exploring. Augmented reality is poised to be on the forefront of these changes.


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